Foxtails: What to look for and how to prevent them.

Foxtails are prevalent in the Bay Area; they’re everywhere. It is hard to completely avoid them but we at Animal Internal Medicine and Specialty Services can give you a few pointers to minimize foxtails that can harm your pet and what to look for.

Foxtails can be embedded everywhere. They’re shaped like an arrow so the only way they travel after they’re embedded is forward. Foxtails can be stuck and embedded into the body anywhere but the most common places are in between the toes, in the nose, in the throat, in the eyes, in the genital region, and in the ears.

What to look for:

In between the toes- In between the toes are by far the most common spot. When this occurs, there is often an inflamed bubble that forms with a small tract where the foxtail entered. There are times where it becomes infected and you can see pus coming from the site. Dogs that have this show signs of licking that same area, so it will become sticky, red and inflamed.

In the nose- Dogs love to explore the world with their noses. These pesky foxtails become brittle and can easily fall off if your dog ends up sniffing too vigorously. This happens more commonly to big breed canines as their nares are wider than smaller breeds. Dogs that get foxtails up their noses often start sneezing in continuous episodes and pawing at the nose at times, especially when stimulated. These sneezing episodes can also be combined with blood from the nose from the irritation of the foreign plant material. Foxtails can also travel into the lungs, which can lead to respiratory distress and/or pneumonia.

In the throat- if your dog likes to eat grass, it is very likely that a foxtail can end up lodged in their throat. This leaves them hacking and sometimes spitting up so as to try to get the thing irritating their throat out. Ingestion of a lot of plant material can lead to an obstruction which can be  much more serious matter that may call for surgery or an endoscopic procedure.

In the genital region- the orifices of both genders are prone to foxtail embedment as well. Inflammation and discolored discharge warrant a visit to the vet.

In the ears- When foxtails end up in the ears, your dog will end up shaking their head and often pawing at their head.

If any of these signs persist please contact your veterinarian. It is likely that your pet will not allow us to fish out the foxtail without any sedation or pain medication. Therefore, a surgical procedure with twilight sedation and in some worse cases full general anesthesia is necessary. When going to your veterinarian, please be sure to fast your pet in preparation for the procedure. Sometimes advanced imaging like radiographs and computerized tomography (CT Scan) is necessary.

What can I do to prevent this?

  • Do a thorough foxtail search after coming back from the outdoors. Check in between the toes and where the paw  pads are.
  • Remove foxtails from the yard.
  • Keep your pets away from dry grassy areas.
  • Don’t let them eat foreign plant material.
  • Trim hair for long haired pets and brush them out thoroughly.

A foxtail embedment that is left untreated can cause major medical issues for your pet. Please check in with your veterinarian if you suspect that your dog may have a foxtail. If there are any questions about foxtails or if you think your pet may have a foxtail, contact us at Animal Internal Medicine and Specialty Services 415. 566.0540. AIMSS is open around the clock to help your pet.


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